With the launch of LTE internet in South Africa, we’re hearing about truly unbelievable speeds…60Mbps… 100Mbps… Faster even than many of the corporate networks in the offices you work in.
But what do these speeds mean? Will an average customer ever see them? Is the launch of LTE going to live up to the hype? If this all sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Think back to 2004 and 2005, when 3G coverage was rolled out across South Africa by the two giants. Ad campaigns with rockets and fire burst peppered mass media. Mobile broadband was here. Except it wasn’t. Coverage was spotty. Speeds were all-over-the-place. And mobile data was prohibitively expensive.
For customers, LTE internet means download speeds of up to 60Mbps (on Vodacom and MTN), with some implementations like 8.ta’s capable of peak speeds of 90Mbps. But it’s critical to note that these are peak speeds. With these far higher than 3G peak speeds, and because of the technology used, users connecting on LTE will have a faster average experience.
Normal users are going to experience average speeds of somewhere between 6Mbps and 12Mbps. Not quite 60Mbps, but this is a massive jump up from current average 3G speeds (where you’ll experience anywhere from 1Mbps-3Mbps).
That hasn’t stopped the hype from building. In fact, the sudden hysteria over LTE internet in the past few weeks – largely thanks to the new iPhone 5 supporting LTE – has been incredible. Locally, we’ve seen all four operators suddenly announce plans to launch LTE despite the ideal spectrum for the super-fast mobile broadband not yet being allocated by government (and Icasa). This means that, for now, Vodacom and MTN are using less than optimal frequencies for LTE by reusing spectrum they’re currently using for existing voice and data.
Until we see much, much bigger (and far cheaper) data bundles – like 20GB, 50GB, 100GB – LTE isn’t going to mean much at all.